UPDATE: As of Monday afternoon, EA reports that "Apex Legend" has 25 million players.
If you had never heard of "Apex Legends," you have now.
Despite being a big-budget title from well-known gamemaker EA ("Madden," "FIFA," "Battlefield"), "Apex Legends," which this weekend dethroned video-game phenomenon "Fortnite" in a number of areas, launched without advertising.
Released about a week ago, "Apex Legends" is similar to "Fortnite" in that it is a free, online multiplayer video game in which players go head-to-head in a battle royale style (think last man standing). The game captured 2.5 million players within the first day of its release and, two days later, that number climbed to a record-breaking 10 million players—a milestone that took previous record-holder "Fortnite" two weeks to achieve. And "Apex Legends" became the most watched stream on Twitch this past weekend, garnering some 300,000 active viewers, or about three-times that of "Fortnite," according to Twitch data.
Yet the game's publisher, EA, had announced and released the game on the same day, a far cry from its typical tried-and-true strategy of marketing heavily through both paid media and press interviews roughly one year before any given release.
"The game came out on the day of the Super Bowl and EA instead relied on Twitch and YouTube to make it the biggest launch ever for a battle royale game," says Daniel Ahmad, an analyst at Niko Partners, who says EA's move was unusual. "If you go back five, 10 or 15 years ago, this wouldn't [have been] possible."
Brands such as Taco Bell, however, are running preroll video ads on popular streaming channels to promote delivery to hungry gamers; IZOD is running ads featuring NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers to promote its clothing line; and Truth.org is warning viewers about the dangers of vaping.
Twitch streamers fuel fast start
Helping boost "Apex Legends" success are popular streamers such as DrDisrespect (3 million followers) and Ninja (13 million follower), who have been streaming the game. Another factor is its quality, according to Ahmad, who points out that many of the popular streamers have been raving about its game play.
"One thing has to be taken into account is the quality of the game itself," he says. "It took an existing IP everyone knows ['Fortnite'] but innovated on it in an interesting way."
"Apex Legends," though, still has a long way to go before it's even in the same zip code as "Fortnite," which was released in 2017.
"'Fortnite' has more than 200 million players and it has expanded on a number of platforms like mobile," Ahmad says. "'Apex Legends' is in its early stages ... and it's off to a good start, but there's still a lot of time before it can compete with 'Fortnite.'"
According to consultancy R3, EA spends an estimated $80 million annually in global media.